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A Case of Palestinian Arab Justice between Minority and Majority

Haseeb Shehadeh
2009 / 10 / 6

A Case of Palestinian Arab Justice between Minority and Majority
The Samaritan High Priest Salåma b. Íadaqa and the Arab Tailors of Nablus in the Nineteenth Century

Haseeb Shehadeh
Helsinki University

The following Arabic short story about the Samaritan high priest Salåma b. Ghazal b. Ishaq b. Sadaqa was written by the late high priest Ya‘qub b. >Uzzi in 1960. Salama (1784-1855) actually served as a high priest between the years 1799 and 1826 and all high priests who followed him were his offspring. After the death of his father in 1787, the Samaritans lived about twelve years without a high priest because the only heir, his son Salåma, was too young to take the office of high priesthood. At the age of nine, the 23rd of January 1793 the orphaned Salåma started to copy the Samaritan Torah. Unfortunately, only one folio of that Torah has survived in Firkovich Sam II B 55 at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, approximately thirty Samaritan families lived in al-Khadra area, referred to in the Torah by the patriarch Jacob as Hlqt al-Smrh. The governor of Nablus was firstly Musa Bek Tuqan, followed by Mahmoud Bek Abd al-Hadi. The tax collector in the Samaritan community was Abd Hannuna b. Sadaqa al-Danfi. Salåma had fairly good relations with the governors of the district of Nablus especially because of his knowledge of astrology and of writing amulets (bitaqat). This knowledge of predicting the future of people by watching the stars, is expressed in some of the legends collected by Ratson Tsedaka.
Salama’s son, Imran (1809-1874), was the high priest of the Samaritans during the period 1826—1859 only, although, according to the Samaritan halakhah, a high priest remains in his office until he dies. Salama corresponded for almost two decades with the well-known orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy in Arabic and Samaritan Neo-Hebrew (the so-called Shomronit). It is to be noted that this successful term Samaritan Neo-Hebrew was coined by our dear friend, the late Professor Macuch. Salåma’s correspondence, significant in various respects, was published and translated into French by De Sacy, the pioneer of Samaritan Arabic studies in the modern era. In addition, Salama met with some European travellers who visited the Samaritan community in Nablus and they left us a positive picture of the character of this high priest.
Salåma composed prayers in Samaritan Neo-Hebrew and several of these prayers are included in the collection of Cowley. He also wrote poetry in the so-called Middle Arabic, and a few examples are known to us. Therefore, his name should be added to the list of Samaritan poets in Arabic prepared by the present writer some years ago.
Salama’s marriage with Íiß Shela˙ Ab-Sakuwwa ha-Danfi took place in 1805, as recorded of in their ketubba (kitåb al-‘aris), Firkovich Sam X 66 in the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg. The couple had three sons, Imran, Harun and Ishaq. Salåma’s mother, Hadiyya, the sister of Ghazal b. Surur, was from Gaza. In light of his correspondence, it is evident that for two decades, from 1788 until 1808, the Samaritans were forbidden to celebrate their Passover on Mount Gerizim. Salama did not know anything about the Karaites. He was convinced that there were Samaritans in Europe and firmly rejected the possibility of selling Samaritan manuscripts. Salåma was the last high priest to live in the old, dark, and damp priestly house which was divided into three parts. In the past that house was known by the name ha¡-¡em, that is to say, the Name of God because holy parchments including the name of God were preserved there in a small closet. Later those parchments were placed in a small golden box in a metal closet together with other old books in the synagogue.
Ya‘qub b. Uzzi (afterwards, Abu Shafi’) was born in 1899 and died in 1987. Our friend, the late Professor Macuch met him in Nablus in 1968 and described him as “critical minded Samaritan” and “open minded person”. Abu Shafi’ served as high priest for three years His parents died when he was young; the father died in 1905/6 at the age of thirty five. His mother Aziza died in 1915/6 at the age of thirty. This small family of four members used to live in a 3.5 x 2 m room. The children, Abu Shafi’ and his younger sister, Munira, were raised for ten years under the auspices of their mother, their grandfather Jacob b. Aaron the Levite and their paternal uncle Abu al-Hasan b. Ya‘qub. It is worth mentioning that Abu Shafi’’s father, a bookseller in Palestine, visited London with three Samaritans in 1903. They were Ishaq b. Imran, Naji b. Kha∂r and Shelabi b. Ya‘qub. The main purposes of this three month trip were to sell Samaritan manuscripts, to collect donations in order to assist poor Samaritan families and for opening a school. Among the manuscripts sold to a British lady was a small old parchment, a Finasiyye dating back to pre-Islamic times! At that time there were still four scrolls among which the famous one by Avisha‘ b. Pinhas, were housed in the three or four wood and metal cabinets in the synagogue in Nablus. That synagogue, built in the thirteenth century, had room for sixty worshippers.
Abu Shafi’ received his basic education, religious and secular, in three different systems. First, his demanding religion teachers were Salåma b. Imrån and Ibrahim b. Khadr. The Torah as well as prayers from Marqe Durran were taught. Secondly, he attended a Protestant missionary school where he was supposed to learn mainly Arabic and English. The old, liberal and modest teacher Abu Nadir was not successful. Thirdly, the school of Warren founded in 1912 was considered a good place for Abu Shafi’ to learn various subjects such as English, arithmetic, history, geography and religion, especially the basics of cantillation. That school was in two big houses in the Samaritans’ quarter, one for boys and the other for girls. The number of the pupils in each house was about seventy, distributed into three classes. The age of the pupils varied between five to twenty years. Yet, it should be emphasized that the major part of learning and education was achieved by Abu Shafi’ himself. He taught himself both Hebrew (called in one place, the Jewish language) and English, and was fond of reading books. In his youth, history, love stories, and novels attracted him, but later he turned to scientific and philosophical works.
In 1937 Abu Shaf •adia Gaon (10th cent.) and the well-known Septuagint. This work, which took three years (1935-1938), was given to Yits˙ak Ben-Zvi who failed to find an adequate purchaser for it. The priest decided to sell this translation because he needed money for his marriage. My continuous attempts since the 1970s to find any traces of such a translation have been fruitless.
Abu Shafi’ produced copies of the Samaritan Torah and the Deftar (collection of prayers) with vocalization in order to teach his children and to preserve the traditional oral pronunciation. He claimed that some ‘ignorant, fanatic and reactionary persons’ forbade such an action. Their argument was that these signs of vowels are considered an addition to the holy text of the Torah (Deut 4:2, 13:1). The priest Jacob resisted the temptation to sell old manuscripts for any sums of money .
The life of Abu Shafi< was hard and he described it more than once as a tragedy. As a father he did not derive much pleasure from the intellectual achievements of his sons and suggested that rational people should, in fact, give a banquet when somebody passes away. As for himself, he desired that his coffin be made of strong wood painted green and the grave ought to be two and half metres deep and one metre wide. Planting flowers and especially roses beside the grave would be appreciated. He did not like mourning and wearing black clothes. Therefore, he beseeched his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren not to mourn over thirty days.
In the following is the story of the High Priest Salåma b. Ghazål b. Íadaqa and the Arab tailors of Nablus during the first half of the nineteenth century. It is presented as it appeared in Abu Shafi’’s hand-written book on the Samaritans in 1960. The story would have had some interest for Palestinian dialectology had it been written in the spoken Arabic of Nablus.

This is a true story of a recent period. It had not been written down before we transcribed it from those who had heard it from their parents and knew it. The priest Salåma was renowned for his piety, simplicity and spiritual contacts, as well as for his poverty and lack of means. He was skilled in the science of astrology which he had learned from his father Ghazål. As a result he was close to Arab governors and leaders who ruled Nablus .
At that time the Samaritans of Nablus refrained from giving in marriage one of their daughters because of a dispute between him and some influential Samaritans. Consquently, he moved to Gaza and lived there for a period of time They gave him the best of their daughters in marriage and did not let him go back until strong urging and insistence of the notables of Nablus who expressed their regret and sorrow for what they had done against him.
The priest Salåma was extremely simple, religious and pious. He practised tailoring as a profession not because he mastered it but because he regarded it the only occupation through which it would be possible to earn some money to support his family. Yet, some Samaritans helped him in renting a very modest shop in the bazaar of the tailors in Nablus.
He worked for a long period making traditional men’s robes for the villagers for a small fee. In spite of the fact that he was not skilled in this profession, people chose him as their tailor, causing envy among his neighbouring Arab tailors, who hated him and asked him to raise his fees and even threatened him. Since he did not pay any attention to them, they decided to harm him by accusing him of stealing and complaining to the governor of Nablus, Musa Bey Tuqan. To make the charge, they secretly placed in his shop some pieces of cloth that they accustomed to steal from their own clients. Then a delegation from them went and met Tuqan. They presented to him the matter of this Samaritan priest who steals the property of Muslims.
The Bey who knew the priest did not believe them at first sight and rebuked them harshly. He said to them: You envy this poor and humble person and treat him unjustly. They answered: you can immediately send some of your men to search his shop. We are sure that there are some stolen goods in it. If our statement turns out to be false then we would be ready to accept the punishment that our lord imposes on us. The Bey agreed and commanded some of his men to go and search the priest’s shop. They went and searched Salåma’s shop though he did not know why they came and what they were looking for. When they found the stolen pieces that the complainants themselves had put there, they asked him to accompany them to the Bey and he did. When they arrived before the Bey with what they found, the priest stood in front of the Bey. The Bey, feeling pity for the priest, asked him to tell the truth. The priest denied having any knowledge of the the stolen goods. The Bey, who did not suspect that the charge was a trick by the tailors, became furious and thought that the priest was lying and refuses to acknowledge the truth. So he raised his hand to slap him but Salåma moved aside from the blow. The Bey’s hand hit the wall. The blow was so hard that the Bey fainted because of the intense pain. Before he regained consciousness one of his brothers led the priest Salåma by the hand and said to him: Go away and save yourself, you poor man, before you get killed. The priest took to his heels not believing that he was safe. When he arrived home he hid in the cellar below a floor tile and had been intended for such purposes for a long time. He remained in hiding until a Bey’s messenger showed up. When the Bey regained consciousness he felt a great pain in his hand. Orthopaedic therapists and physicians tried to cure him but their attempts to mitigate the pain or enable him to move his hand were in vain. Then the Bey asked about the priest and what they did to him. His brother informed him that he took the priest to his home. Musa Bey thanked him for doing that and requested him to go and apologize to the priest and fetch him, believing that no one else could help him. The Bey’s brother hurried to the priest’s house and after some difficulty the priest showed up and agreed to accompany him. When he arrived, the Bey apologized to him and asked him to appeal to God and pray for healing. Salåma did and the pain vanished and the hand was healed. Salama was honoured and rewarded with a large sum of money and gifts for his family and an outfit for him. Though the Bey believed in Salåma’s innocence, he could not understand how the stolen pieces came to the shop. Yet when the Bey brought the tailors who had complained and started beating them with stick some of them unveiled the truth and confessed that they themselves had placed the pieces that they had stolen from their clients in the shop. They received punishment which they had brought upon themselves, and they paid a fine which was given to the priest. After that the Bey remained grateful to the priest and extended to him a helping hand.
Finally, it is perhaps not superfluous to mention that the last High Priest, the late Cohen Sallum Ben Imran (Shalom ben Amram, 1923-2004), was a member in the Palestinian parliament. The new high priest, El‘azar Tsedaka ben Isaac ben Amram (Abd al-Muin Sadaqa, 1927- ) and all his community, Israelies and Palestinians, speakers of Arabic and Hebrew will be, as any minority in the world and in particular in the Middle East, the first ones to welcome real, just and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinian authority and the Arab World. Shall we witness justice, peace and security in the Holy Land?

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